The Beginning of Work
Why do people work? Many different answers are given. Most of the world's population work to eat. It is a necessity for survival. Others work to play or to pamper themselves. This is true of many in the Western World. Work, for them, is a necessary evil endured only for the pleasure their salary can buy. Some think of work as security and they may value a steady but boring job more than an uncertain or lesser paid job that is fulfilling. For others work is an obsession. They are ‘workaholics’. They neglect their family, health and even their soul for the sake of their work. The reasons why people work have an important bearing on the way they regard it. Most consider it a necessary evil, to be avoided if possible. They do only what is necessary. Aversion to work can also be seen in the way many turn to gambling or crime for quick ways to make money. These views of work are another evidence of how sin has spoiled our thinking. Genesis 1-3 provides a very different view of work from that of the present day. These chapters lay the foundation for a Biblical work ethic which is developed through the Old Testament and on into the New. They do not of course give an exhaustive statement of that work ethic but they do provide us with four important principles.
Genesis 1:28 states concerning our first parents: “God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over...every living thing that moveth upon the earth”. Notice that Adam was given four directives. Firstly, he was to “be fruitful and multiply”. This was a command to have children which chapter 2 shows was to be in the context of the marriage bond. Secondly, he was to “replenish the earth”. This goes beyond the first directive. It was a command to fill the earth by carrying out the work of exploration and colonisation. His horizons were to be wider than Eden. God had greater work in store for him. Thirdly, he was to “subdue the earth”. There was much that man had to do by way of discovering the mysteries and wonders of God's creation. He was to conquer God's creation by investigation through the channels of science, technology and art. He was given authority to bring all his God-given skills and knowledge to bear on the work before him. God created him with inquisitive and creative instincts for this purpose. Sadly these instincts are now debased by sin and often lead us down God- dishonouring avenues. Fourthly, he was to “have dominion”. This directive is to be taken with the command to “subdue”. The things discovered were to be used in the context of his God-given authority. He was to subdue for the benefit of the rest of creation. Many of our ecological problems today arise because instead of working for the good of his environment, man does the opposite. God-appointed dominion has given way to man-centred exploitation. We have forgotten we are only stewards of God's creation and instead act as the owners.
This four-fold divine directive reminds us of a number of important things. Work is not the result of sin but a necessary part of God's plan for us. To feel fulfilled we must work. This runs counter to much of today’s thinking in which the ideal of a perfect existence is not having to work. Again, since we were created to be working beings, failure to work will result in our being out of step with God and with our own nature. Laziness, enforced unemployment, or a wrong approach to work will lead to dissatisfaction, frustration, boredom and unhappiness. It also leads to sin because “the devil finds work for idle hands”. God's commission to work was intended to be a blessing and not a curse. Work was to be like the rest of God’s creation, “very good”.
Most people think of work as something done for themselves and their families. God's Word teaches that the primary purpose of our work is to serve God and bring Him glory. Genesis 2:8,15 tells of the garden of Eden planted by God Himself and owing nothing to the labours of man. This was a place of beauty and bounty, reflecting the character of the Gardener. God put the man He had created into it. He was brought into this special place planted by God, where God intended to have fellowship with him. He was to “dress it and to keep it”, to maintain what God had created. He was given this work in the beautiful garden because it provided him with an environment especially suited to his physical, mental and spiritual development. It was a “user-friendly environment”.
Adam was put to work for God. This aspect of the Biblical work ethic is developed further in Scripture. The Ephesian Christians were told: “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men” (Eph.6:5-7). The Colossians were told: “Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Col.3:23). Both these passages show that our primary purpose in working should be to please God. This principle ought to motivate every Christian. We are not to be content to please men. As Adam concerned himself with looking after God's garden for His glory, we too ought to be concerned to advance His cause and His glory. This is to be true of us no matter what work in God's providence we are called to do. If we sweep the streets then let us do it to God's glory. Regarding it as done for God will help us develop a biblical view of work and wages. Adam received no salary for what he did, yet he worked. We tend too much to think of work as that done for wages. But we may for some reason be unable to get paid work. We may be kept at home with the children, forcibly unemployed or disabled. Yet to be a “home-maker” is to be engaged in work. We can be involved in voluntary work. Whatever we do, we are not to do nothing and we must do all for God’s glory.
Genesis 2:2-3 states: “On the seventh day God ended his work which he had made....And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made”. Any consideration of the beginnings of work which ignores the institution of a day of rest, the Sabbath, would be incomplete. God set a pattern in His creative activity. Six days work was followed by one day of rest. This was enshrined by God in the Ten Commandments and is morally binding for all time. Notice the close connection between work and rest in the Fourth Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work...:For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it” (Exod.20:8-11).
Work is not to be without rest. Some Christians make the mistake of working all the time. They hardly ever rest and spend little time with their spouses and families. They may say they are too busy working for the Lord but they are failing to follow His example of resting. They never take time to stop and reflect on God's salvation or engage in self-examination. Also we should beware of the constant clamour for more leisure time. We are to labour six days. Of course not all of it will be paid work. When we do have a shorter working week the temptation is to waste it in lazy pampering of ourselves.
The day of rest is a necessity. We need time to discover and reflect on God's will for us if we are going to do all our work “as to the Lord”. The Sabbath is a foretaste of what is yet to come for God's people, a reminder that when our work for God on this earth is done “there remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God” (Heb.4:9). Yet it should be noticed that “rest” from labour is not inactivity. God, having finished the work of creation, is said to have “rested”. It is clear that He never ceased to reign or to uphold the world. It was a rest of achievement, just as it is said of Christ that He, having “by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb.1:3). There was a cessation of His sacrificial work and the entering into the enjoyment of His achievement. But He is still “upholding all things by the word of his power” (Heb.1:3). Similarly, for us this rest involves the works of necessity and mercy. Christ referred to such when He spoke of pulling our neighbour's ox out of the pit on the Sabbath day.
The responsibilities and duties placed on our first parents before the Fall are still applicable today. Although they had the ability to carry them out perfectly, we in our fallen nature are dependent on the grace of God if we are to fulfil our obligations. There are two Scripture passages which teach that these responsibilities continued after the Fall. God said: “Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground” (Gen.3:17-19). Here God cursed the ground because of Adam's sin. Before, it was “user-friendly” but now it would bring forth thorns and weeds. Adam would have a constant battle with his environment. Yet labouring in an abnormal world he will have sufficient food. Genesis 9:1 states: “God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth”. Here Noah is given the same commission as Adam. This shows that it applies to us even in our fallen state.
In conclusion, we have seen that if we want happiness as God's children we must seek to obey the commission to work for His glory. We are to work six days and rest on the seventh. We were created for work and will be discontented doing nothing. We need God's grace to do whatever we are called to do as to the Lord. No matter how hard, menial or financially unrewarding our work is, if we do it as to the Lord then we shall find satisfaction in it.
Any comments or questions please E-Mail me or Rev William Macleod the editor.
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